The final years of Charles Edward Stuart Robb

Charles Edward Stuart Robb, my great great great grandfather, spent at least the last two years of his life sharing a house with strangers in Lambeth, south London. In this post, I want to set down what I know about the last few years of his life, and the people he found himself living with.

Charles’ wife Margaret died in 1843. She was buried at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, so we can assume that at this date the Robbs were still living at 29 Charing Cross, their address at the time of the 1841 census. It’s likely that Margaret’s death left Charles, who was 64 at the time, on his own: his daughter Elizabeth had married in 1841 and his three surviving sons would either be married or living elsewhere in the next few years. Perhaps the expense of maintaining a family home (even if this was a set of rooms over a shop) became too much for Charles and he looked around for cheaper lodgings. The question as to why he wasn’t offered a home by any of his adult children is difficult to answer: perhaps their financial circumstances were also constrained?

In 1844, Charles’ youngest son John married Mary Anne Downes in Lambeth, giving his address as Kennington Lane. Two years later, John and Mary Robb were living at 16 Lambeth Road when their first son was born: they named him Charles Edward Stuart after his grandfather. Perhaps the fact that John was living in Lambeth explain Charles’ move across the Thames, even if it fails to explain why he was not actually living with his son. Sadly, the younger Charles Edward Stuart Robb only lived for ten months, dying of meningitis in January 1847.

December 1847 saw the death at the age of 36, from influenza and bronchitis, of Charles’ son George William. At the time of his death George was living at 8 Villiers Street, off the Strand and close to the Embankment. The fact that the death was registered by George’s brother William, rather than by his  father, suggests that Charles was not resident at the same address. He was either still in Charing Cross, or had already moved to Lambeth.

William Robb (my great great grandfather) had married Fanny Sarah Seager in 1836 and in the following decade would live at various addresses in Covent Garden and Soho. Fanny died in February 1851, shortly after giving birth to my great grandfather, Charles Edward Robb. By the time of the census in March, William was living with his eldest son, also William, in Queen Street, Soho, while his two daughters, Elizabeth Margaret and Matilda Fanny, were with their Seager relations in Gerrard Street. If Charles moved from Charing Cross around this time, William’s difficult family circumstances might explain why he was unable to accommodate his ageing father.

Lambeth, from Weller’s 1868 map of London, showing Tenison Street at top centre, as well as Lambeth Road and Kennington Road (formerly Kennington Lane)

The 1851 census finds Charles Robb living at 40 Tenison Street, off York Road, in Lambeth. The road was not far from Waterloo Bridge and seems to be identical with present-day Tenison Way (close to the BFI IMAX cinema). Charles is described as a widower of 72, and still employed as a clerk. The census record mistakenly gives his place of birth as Glasgow, but there could be any number of explanations for this. Perhaps he gave this answer to simplify matters (he had lived in Glasgow, and was married there), or perhaps one of the other residents at No. 40 filled in the form on his behalf and made an educated guess based on conversations with Charles.

Besides Charles, there were four other separate households sharing the house at 40 Tenison Street. The first was another single man: John Smith, an unmarried 31-year-old coppersmith. The second consisted of George Roberts, 52, described as ‘out of business,’ and his wife Hannah, 36.

The third and largest household at No. 40 was headed by (Thomas) William Matthews, age 50, a portable water closet maker. Living with him were his wife Elizabeth, 47, and their children: Eliza, 19, a teacher of music; William, 14; Emily, 12; and Henry, 10. William Matthews’ household also included his nephew William Walker, 22, a French polisher; another nephew Thomas Walker, 20, a porter; and his niece Helen Walker, 16, a house servant.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, it would be Mrs and Mrs Matthews who witnessed Charles Robb’s last will and testament two years later, on 9th June 1853, the day before his death. This suggests either that they were the principal tenants or owners of the property, or that they had a particularly close relationship with Charles in the months before his death. It would be Elizabeth Matthews who was present at Charles’ death on 10th June and would register it four days later. The cause of Charles’ death is given as ‘old age years certified’, but there is also mention of ‘paralysis 6 years’. Does this mean that Charles was an invalid in later years, and if so, did the Matthews family care for him in some way (once again, we have to ask ourselves: where were the members of his family during his final illness and death)?

It’s possible that William and Elizabeth Matthews were the couple who were married at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in 1828. If so, then perhaps Charles knew them before he moved to Lambeth and this could help to explain how he came to be sharing a house with them. Later records suggest that all of  the Matthews children were born in Westminster, so they could not have moved to Lambeth before 1841. So far, I’ve been unable to find any trace of them in the 1841 census.

It appears that William Matthews died before the 1861 census, possibly in that same year. The census record finds the widowed Eliza, age 57, and working as a housekeeper, still living in Tenison Street, but now at No. 32, where her household (one of three at this address) includes son William, 24, a commercial traveller; daughter Emily, 22, a string (?) shirt maker; and son Henry, 20, a pianoforte teacher (like his older sister Eliza, whom I’ve been unable to find in the 1861 census). John Smith, the coppersmith who was with them at No. 40 ten years earlier, is now decribed as a lodger, as is Tewkes (?) Maddison, a 21 year old clerk from Horncastle in Lincolnshire. I’ve yet to find out what happened the the Matthews family after 1861.

Whatever the reason for his move to Lambeth, it seems a sad and lonely end for my 3 x great grandfather, who often described himself in official records as a ‘gentleman’. The fact that he made his son William the executor of his will and divided what money he had among his surviving children suggests that there wasn’t a breakdown in relationships within the family. Perhaps the explanation for Charles spending his last years alone is the simplest and most common of all: poverty.

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